Last week, myself along with a few friends, made the brief flight over to the German capital for a few days of exploration in the European capital of cool.
Berlin is a city best described as a mish-mash, old blending seamlessly with new at every turn, where historical sites are surrounded by modernist architecture and even the most innocuous side street, leads to something special.
After landing at Schönefeld Airport, we took the brief train journey into Alexanderplatz station, we attempted to find our way to the hotel on the usually efficient yet confusing German public transport system, its here that it was a good idea to purchase ourselves a Berlin Welcome Card, providing unlimited free travel on trains, buses and the underground, as well as discounts at many attractions around the city, thus making getting to and from places a pretty painless task.
First on our list of places to see was Checkpoint Charlie, a small wooden structure that marks the location of the most famous of the border crossings between the former West and East Berlin, which along with the open air exhibit opposite, gave us a wonderful glimpse into what it was like to live in a city divided.
Although the world-famous Berlin Wall once stretched along the entire root, very little of it remains in the city centre, we were able to see some small remnants near to our hotel as well as some parts that had been transformed into one of the many art installations that are dotted throughout the city.
Over the next few hours of wandering around the centre of the city, we soon came across the UNESCO world heritage site Museum Island, which unsurprisingly given its name is the location of five different museums, as well as the imposing Berlin Cathedral and Lustgarten, venturing between these wonderful structures was a photographers dream, but sadly given the time scale, we weren’t able to explore inside any of them, something that I will most assuredly be doing next time I visit.
As the sun started to set on our first day in the city, we started searching for somewhere to grab a meal, discovering the effortlessly cool Berliner Republik, a restaurant/bar that both specialises in German cuisine and a stock exchange bar, where the prices their wide range of alcoholic beverages go up and down depending on their popularity, all the way through to 6am, something that I have seen a couple of times as one off’s in UK bars, but not as a permanent theme.
Once nightfall was upon us, we crossed the river and headed towards the seat of German power, the Reichstag Building, partially destroyed during WWII, the Reichstag was lovingly reconstructed to its former glory back in 1999, this time sporting a beautiful large glass domes, with spiral staircases that weave around the inside, giving visitors wonderful sights across the city for free, though it’s important to remember that with this site, you have to book ahead via the website.
Not far south of the Reichstag sits one of the cities most famous landmarks, the Brandenberg Gate, an 18th century arch sitting between the Tiergarten park and Pariser Platz, the gate is particularly impressive at night, when the daytime crowds have dispersed and the illuminations enhance its beauty.
By this time, we had decided to sample some of the cities famous night life, looking up recommendation on Google, we stumbled upon the decidedly sophisticated Newton Bar, a small but beautiful cocktail bar that gains its name from fashion photographer Helmut Newton, which is also the reason for one of his works covering the rear wall. Here you can recline back into a deep leather seat, order one of their extensive collection of cocktails watch the world go by.
Shaking off the effects of some pretty strong cocktails, we formed a plan to see as much as we could on our only full day, starting the day at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a poignant and moving collection of concrete blocks that rise and fall almost like waves on the ocean, with a large underground hall containing the names of 3 million Jewish holocaust victims, it’s here that the true magnitude of the monstrosities carried out during the second world war and heartbreaking tribute to those that paint the ultimate price.
Moving on from such a highly charged place, the near-by Mall of Berlin seemed the perfect place to enjoy a spot of retail therapy, with the Lindt shop making chocolate loving me a happy happy man, while the others enjoyed poking around the Steiff teddy shop and some of the bakeries.
Although the offering of sweet treats in the Mall of Berlin was huge, we still fancied more and a trip to Reash Schokoladenhaus is just what the doctor ordered, a food mecca, where famous landmarks are made out of chocolate and the cake selection is one of the best I’ve seen for a long time, here is the place that you can pick up all your gifts to take home, rather than the usually tacky I love Berlin t-shirt.
Finishing up the day much like the first, we looked around for somewhere to grab a bite to eat and a drink or two, this time we came across an Easter market in the middle of the Alexander Platz, complete with all the trimmings that you would find at one of the hundred German markets that have been springing up in the UK recently, though this time more authentic and featuring with a pretty awesome beer hall, where we spent a fair bit of time drinking fruity beer and eating more sausage based dishes.
Once again passing through Museum Island, we started off the day with crepes at the Easter market, then set about exploring the area around the Alexander Platz, including the colossal TV Tower, which soars 368m above the Berlin skyline, with a revolving restaurant providing unparalleled vistas across the city and beyond.
No good trip to a major city would be complete without hitting the shopping district hard, sadly I didn’t make it to the awesome looking Bikini Berlin, but did however discover what can only be described as one of the best biscuit shops around, the awesome La Cure Gourmande, which despite being French, it is still worth checking out when wandering around Alexanderplatz.
After finishing off our trip by buying all the trinkets and gifts we could, it became time to make our way to the airport, which originally would have been via the train, but given that all the trains seemed not to bother turning up, we took the 30 minute taxi ride from the centre and meant that we got to catch a glimpse of some more cool sites before leaving the city, including East Side Gallery, a large portion of the Berlin Wall, made famous by being covered in wonderfully artistic graffiti that stretches all the way back to when the wall was still in use.
Another interesting site that we passed on our way through the outskirts of the city was Molecule Man, one of a series of sculptures that are dotted throughout the world, with Berlin’s version making for an impressive sight sitting in the middle of the Spree River.